When Dakota Fanning was born on Feb. 23, 1994, to a pair of former professional athletes, it was probably assumed that someday she would be the fastest runner in her Conyers, GA elementary school. Instead, the daughter of a St. Louis Cardinal and a pro tennis player was the queen of make-believe, latching onto a local kids theater playhouse where her talent stood out from the crowd. From the time she was cast in her first commercial at the age of five, Fanning declared that all she wanted to do was become an actress. A round of casting calls in Los Angeles and her first national commercial - for Tide detergent - was all the proof the family needed that their first daughter had show business potential. They pulled up stakes to settle in Hollywood.
The ethereal-looking blonde tot made her series television debut on an episode of the NBC medical drama "ER" (NBC, 1994- ) in 2000, playing a leukemia-stricken child in need of a bone marrow transplant. She went on to guest roles on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (CBS, 2000- ) and "Spin City" (ABC, 1996-2002), and had fun portraying younger incarnations of Ellen DeGeneres and Calista Flockhart on "The Ellen Show" (CBS, 2001-02) and "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002). But the seven-year-old's breakthrough came when she was cast as the daughter of a mentally challenged man (Sean Penn) fighting to retain custody in the big screen drama I Am Sam (2001). The star-making role broke hearts, wowed critics, and earned her a Young Artist Award as well as a nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor from the Screen Actors Guild - the youngest performer ever to receive such an honor.
Fanning was tapped to play the younger version of another grown-up blonde - Reese Witherspoon - in the romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama (2002) and was handed a beefier supporting role as the kidnapped asthmatic daughter of Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend in the thriller, Trapped (2002). On the small screen, Fanning's translucent skin and wide-set eyes made her an easy sell as a troubled alien child in "Steven Spielberg Presents Taken" (Sci Fi Channel, 2002), a miniseries for which she also served as narrator. Uptown Girls (2003) marked Fanning's entree into more family-oriented films, and she finally had the chance to win over peers with her leading role as an overly serious, wealthy New York City kid whose busy mother hires an immature rock star's daughter (Brittany Murphy) to be her nanny. Fanning's eerily adult qualities made her an ideal "odd couple" foil for Murphy. She went on to successfully portray another uptight control freak in the considerably less charming (if not downright unsettling) Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat (2003).
After lending her voice to animated TV offerings "Kim Possible: A Stitch in Time" (Disney, 2003) and the Cartoon Network's "Justice League" (2001-04), Fanning returned to more mature fare, scoring a major hit with the action-packed revenge drama, Man on Fire (2004). She was paired with Denzel Washington in the film about an unlikely friendship between a retired assassin-turned-bodyguard and his young charge. If that co-starring bill was a surprise, her next, opposite Robert De Niro in "Hide and Seek" (2005), cemented her reputation as a child actress oddly at home with veteran heavy-hitters. Playing a child traumatized by the loss of her mother who seeks solace with an imaginary friend, Fanning earned reviews that equaled or bettered her co-star. In one of the biggest summer releases of 2005, Fanning next co-starred in Steven Spielberg's remake of the sci-fi classic, "War of the Worlds," earning kudos as the wide-eyed daughter of a deadbeat dad (Tom Cruise) who steps up to protect his family during an alien invasion.
A full-blown movie star at age 11, Fanning retreated to the comforts of childhood and voiced Lilo in the direct-to-video animated sequel, "Lilo and Stitch 2: Stich Has a Glitch" (2005), and starred opposite Kurt Russell in the family film Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (2005). Her portrayal of a young girl whose faith and determination help her father train a lame mare for the Breeders' Cup Classic prompted co-star Kurt Russell to declare her the best actress he had ever worked with, and earned her a Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film. Subsequently Glenn Close, Fanning's screen mom in the episodic drama Nine Lives (2005), declared Fanning an "old soul." In 2006, Fanning became the youngest member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was an inspired choice to play Fern Arable in the adaptation of E.B. White's beloved children's tale, Charlotte's Web (2006), where her warm and feisty performance helped make the film one of the year's family favorites. It also helped boost her popularity among her peers, earning her a Kids' Choice Award for Favorite Female Movie Star.
"Charlotte's Web" marked a turning point in Fanning's career. Her next big screen appearances indicated that the actress was unafraid of leaving her "precocious child" persona behind and attacking pre-teen material befitting her age. Her first outing as a "troubled youth" met with widespread controversy, especially with religious groups and youth rights organizations outraged over Fanning's starring role in Hounddog (2008). Even prior to the Sundance Film Festival screening, rumors spread that the film about a 12-year-old Southern girl for whom blues music provides relief from her life of poverty and abuse, included a rape scene. The fact that the traumatic event was depicted only via facial reactions of the actress did not prevent controversy from erupting again when the film went into limited release in the fall of 2008.
The actress herself emerged relatively unscathed, telling journalists "You have to prepare your children for things that happen in the world. Everything isn't rosy," before delivering a more feel-good film. In the cinematic adaptation of the bestselling novel The Secret Life of Bees (2008), Fanning starred as another restless Southerner; one who runs away from home with her caregiver (Jennifer Hudson) and begins a new life under the wing of three nonconformist sisters (Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys). Fanning followed up as part of the ensemble cast of the dark, character-driven drama "Winged Creatures" (2008), where she played one of a group of people dealing with the emotional aftermath of witnessing a gruesome murder-suicide. In the tearjerker "Hurricane Mary" (2008), Fanning teamed up with sister Elle to portray a pair of disabled twins struggling for a "normal" life.
The highly anticipated sci-fi outing Push (2009) cast the teen actress as a supernaturally gifted former U.S. agent on the run from the authorities and hiding out in Hong Kong. She returned to family fare as the voice of the animated character Coraline (2009), heroine of Neil Gaiman's novella about a girl who stumbles into a parallel universe through a door in her new home. The 3-D film was an instant family classic, widely praised by critics and loved by audiences to the tune of over $120 million in box office receipts. Then the 15-year-old, who was accustomed to first billing, retreated into a supporting role in the cultural phenomenon "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" (2009), the second of five film installments based on the best-selling young adult vampire novels by Stephenie Meyer. In the mega popular franchise, she gave a chilling performance as one of the elite coven of Italian Volturi vampires. Fanning showed audiences a whole new side of her range again when she re-teamed with "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart in The Runaways (2010), a biopic of the 1970s hard rock band that featured Stewart as guitarist Joan Jett and Fanning as lead singer Cherie Curry.
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